The twisted mind of rocker-filmmaker Rob Zombie has produced some of the most stomach-churning films of the last 10 years, including “House of 1000 Corpses,” “The Devil’s Rejects” and the 2007 “Halloween” remake.
On April 19, Zombie returns to theaters as writer, director and producer of the new film “The Lords of Salem,” a demented and mind-numbing tale of Salem witches reborn.
The movie stars Rob’s wife Sheri Moon Zombie as Heidi Hawthorne, a Salem, Massachusetts radio DJ who, after receiving a mysterious record from a band called The Lords, plays their haunting tune on the air. But something evil lurks within its plodding notes, which have awoken something within the women of Salem – something seeking revenge, hungry to fulfill a prophecy made hundreds of years ago when innocent women were burned at the stake.
In an interview late last month, Zombie discussed the inspiration for “Lords,” the process (or lack thereof) of casting his wife and his upcoming movie (not a horror film!) about the Philadelphia Flyers.
David Onda: There are sequences in this movie that remind me of my childhood fever nightmares. Is that something you hear often?
Rob Zombie: No, but the intention was to have it feel like you’re watching a nightmare unfolding or feel like you are in a nightmare, so that you say that is a good thing.
Onda: Mission accomplished. Where did the inspiration for this film come from and why did you decide to focus on the Salem Witch Trials?
Zombie: It was just an idea I had many years ago – an unfinished idea that I just wrote down, filed away. Obviously the Salem Witch Trials and Salem’s a very interesting topic that, strangely enough, hasn’t been really explored that often in movies. I’m from Massachusetts, so I was always well aware of it. Like, I remember from a kid reading about it and going to the sites, you know, the tour sites and things. It was just something I though was really cool, and after having visited Salem recently and being in Massachusetts, it’s such a great vibe, it’s very cinematic, so I knew this would be something that would work.
Onda: Sheri has appeared in all of your movies to date. Do you make her audition?
Zombie: No. I can’t think of anyone I’ve made audition, truthfully. Very rarely has anyone auditioned for anything because I always know who I want. There’s times I’ve needed children or something, I didn’t have any children, so I would audition kids, but for the most part I very rarely do that with anybody.
Onda: This is the best performance I’ve seen from Sheri. How did she impress you during filming?
Zombie: A lot of times when it’s happening – not just with her, but with any actor – it’s hard to feel impressed because you are so deep in it with them. Sometimes it’s not until much later. In fact, I screened the movie two nights ago in Texas, and I hadn’t seen the movie in a while, and that was actually the time I was most impressed with it. I was watching the movie, you know, [Sheri] was sitting next to me and I think the best testament is – and this is an almost impossible thing to do – I forgot that the person I’m watching on screen is right next to me.
Onda: You cast Dee Wallace as mysterious and creepy neighbor who, at one point, gropes Sheri. How weird was it to watch the mom from “E.T.” touch your wife in such a manner?
Zombie: Well, I’ve known Dee for a while, we’ve done two other movies together, and Sheri knows Dee also. It was funny, that was Dee’s idea, and I remember her being like, “Okay, Sheri, would it bother you if I did this?” And she’s like, “No, go for it, I don’t care.” It’s very funny and polite as it’s all happening.
Onda: In a genre as saturated as the horror genre is, what sets you and your horror films apart?
Zombie: I think any market that is saturated with anything is usually chasing a trend. A movie like “Paranormal Activity” comes out, it’s like a found footage movie, and, guess what, here’s twenty more movies just like it. [laughs] So, I guess what would set mine apart is that I’m not trying to follow what’s trendy, which almost instinctively is not what’s trendy at every point – for good or for bad.
Onda: Your attention to details in this film, and all of your films, has always impressed me. Do you feel like people still underestimate you as a director?
Zombie: I’m not really sure what people think. The genre that the movies are made in makes people underestimate things because they just write it off as – “Oh, it’s a horror movie.” I was very excited when someone came to me about doing the Philadelphia Flyers story, because they had loved the filmmaking of one of my movies. They were like, “I could see past the subject matter, I just saw the filmmaking and I knew you would be perfect to tell this story.” And that doesn’t happen a lot. Usually people can’t get passed the subject matter. They’re not looking at the filmmaking; they’re just caught up in, “Oh, it was bloody.”
Onda: Since you mentioned it, tell me about the process of writing the Broad Street Bullies script and trying to capture that historic Flyers team on paper.
Zombie: It’s been a long research process, because I really wanted to find stuff that nobody knew or just that had been forgotten. I’ve watched all the games. I’ve been watching Game 6 when they won the Cup for… it seems like months. Just watching it over, and over, and over, and over. At this point, I probably know the game better than the players. It’s becoming, like, psychotic. Every time my wife walks in the room, she’s like, “You’re watching the game again? Jesus, I feel like I know the game.” When I went to the Wells Fargo Center, the Flyers have an incredible archive that just blew my mind. There’s still a lot of research, because every time I feel like found everything I can find, I’ll just find more stuff that just blows me away. I want the movie to be, you know, epic! I think it’s an epic story and I want it to be an epic movie. I know how important that team is to Philadelphia, so I want the details to be correct and the minutia to be correct, so it’s a time-consuming process.
Onda: Will the film focus on both of the championship seasons from ’73-’75?
Zombie: The movie will end with them winning the first cup, because that’s really the climax. I mean, they did it again, and that’s great, but the first one is the best one. I wanna start with the formation of the team, ’cause it was really – it’s a great story how nobody cared about hockey in Philadelphia. They had only had failed teams, they bring this team in, they have a parade to launch the team and nobody cares. And then they’re getting manhandled by the other teams, and then that decision Ed Snider made to build a tough team, which became the Broad Street Bullies, leads to the Cup. That’s really the focus.
“The Lords of Salem” opens in select theaters April 19. Click here to order tickets through Fandango
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.